Change Nothing

a detail from In Peace I Pray.

Thoughts from the mountain.

I grew up with these mountains so it should come as no surprise that I get quiet the moment I step into them. Like a too-tight coat the chaos I wear in my day-to-day life simply drops off; stepping into the mountain is to step out of the noise. Literally and figuratively.

Tom once told me that people change when they are ready. Rich once told me that people change when the pain of staying the same grows greater than the pain of making the change. Change when you are ready, change when you are in pain. Skip taught me that a business intending to change people was destined to fail. It is a fool’s errand. Business is about business not change. I loved this bit of advice from Skip because he is a natural-born change agent, a mentor of mentors (and, poetically, entrepreneurs). In a moment of frustration Kerri told me that people don’t change, they simply become more of who they really are. The masks drop off and we unwittingly reveal ourselves. Change as revelation.

As I hike through the snow toward the summit I wonder if change, at least the human notion of change, is as made-up as the rest of the stories we tell. It is in the forest, which is a festival of the cycles of life, that ideas of different ways of Being seem…superficial. Disconnected. Within seasons there are plenty of changes that roll around and around and around again. Perhaps this thing we call ‘change’ is nothing more than a recognition of the cycle, a readiness to release our dedicated resistance to life? A readiness to release our stories of limitation and division.

Kerri caught me staring at the mountain

Toward the end of his life, Joseph Campbell said that he suspected that all life (energy) was consciousness. There is 1) energy and 2) the forms that energy takes. Although seemingly disparate, seemingly separate, all forms fall back into energy. He said, “The universe throws forms up, then takes them down again.”He might have said that change is nothing more than the cyclical movement between energy and the forms it expresses.

Jim taught me that the art of acting was the art of being present. I know that when I stand in front of a canvas and begin to work, all notions of time disappear. Another day on the mountain, sitting in an adirondack chair midway up the slope, basking in the sun on warm day, we watched Kirsten snowboard. She flew by us several times. When she rides, it is clear, there is no other place, there is no past or future. There is now. She is vital, alive. In that place, riding the present moment (the only place that actually exists), the noise drops off. I know, and Jim knew, when fully in this moment there is no need to pester yourself with misplaced notions of being somewhere else, being anyone else.

 

a blast from the waaay past: August Ride. I lost track of this one and if you know where this painting is, let me know.

Attempt What Is Not Certain

Revelry

A painting from the archives. This one goes way back…

“Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.” Richard Diebenkorn, Notes To Myself On Beginning A Painting

Yesterday we went to Linda and Jim’s house to do some Irish dancing. They are terrific and dedicated dancers – with a dance floor in their basement – and thought it would be fun to teach their pals a waltz cotillon. It was, as they suspected, a riot of laughter, wrong-direction, toe-stepping and left-footed-entanglements. We drank wine, ate snacks, and found ourselves boldly waltz-stepping into the great unknown. 20 called it “an afternoon of happy insanity.”

All my life I’ve been fascinated at what happens to (and for) people when they open themselves to new experiences. Generosity rises. When people allow themselves to step outside of their safe-place, challenge their need to control and open to the new, they come alive. I mean that literally. They come into the present moment, out of their obsession with replaying the past and fearing/manipulating the future, and into the place where life actually happens. Now. It is the artist’s job to open the door to the place where life happens. It is the door Linda and Jim opened for us yesterday.

Krishnamurti wrote, “Have you ever noticed that when you respond to something totally, with all your heart, there is very little memory?” Horatio and I have an ongoing conversation about art and artistry. Lately, we’ve been discussing how completely we disappear when working on a canvas. Hours go by and it feels like minutes. And, more to the point, we don’t disappear, we become present. We show up. We experience the fullness of life at the burning point. Time, that grand master of illusion, disappears.

After our dancing, standing in the kitchen with a glass of wine, I heard, “Where did the time go?” We were revitalized and giddy, compatriots and survivors of a journey into the surprises of the unknown. I smiled when there rose a rowdy chorus of, “When can we do it again?” Life had burst through – as it wants to do – and left its charge.

Listen To Randi

a detail from my latest painting in progress

a detail from my latest painting-in-progress

Randi is wise. Though, like all truly wise souls, she is completely unaware of her wisdom. She knows that she takes great delight in learning new things. She knows that her curiosity is boundless. She knows beyond the platitude of the sentiment that each new day is an opportunity to renew. Each new day is a step into unknown territory and, for Randi, there is no sense in taking timid steps. There is no sense in trying to make the day fit into a preconceived “normal.” There is no sense in watching the dance. Dance!

She squeals with pleasure when she hears a word used beautifully. “I am a lover of words!” she exclaims. She knows that words are powerful and when used beautifully will define beautiful experiences. She uses her words to define life beautifully. And, because she understands the power of words – and the brevity of life, she also understands the imperative of telling others what they mean to her. She has no problem expressing love.

another detail

another detail

We took a rare opportunity to see her, swinging north to Buffalo after traveling to Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with Craig and Dan. At dinner, we talked of new relationships and new work and new phases of life. We talked of the necessity of creating balance amidst the tug and push of this fast moving life-river. Randi smiled, “I once heard someone speak about attempting to balance life and they said something that changed how I see it. They said that when yearning to balance the many aspects of our lives it is most often not balance we seek! It’s integration! Rather than try to bring all these separate pieces of life into a balancing act, why not integrate them into a unified whole!” She clapped her hands as if having the revelation all over again. “It’s integration, wholeness that we desire!”

Wholeness is another word for presence, and presence is the goal of the performers’ art. Quinn, another wise person, used to tell me that all spiritual teachings speak of finding the middle way, the path between poles or opposites. “Zealots miss the point!” he’d say. Life is not found in the extremes, in the separations, in the fragmented, or the isolationist’s dream. Those are aims of the controller. The rule bound. The real balancing comes in the letting go. As Randi reminded us, it is found in the integration, the middle way, the whole.

the whole

the whole painting as of 12.1.16

 

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See The Sacred

First Anniversary Sunrise

First Anniversary Sunrise

“…it seems to me absurd to consider problems about other beings while I am still in ignorance about my own nature. Phaedrus by Plato

I’m sitting alone in a sanctuary and thinking about sacred spaces. Here’s the thing I’ve come to understand about sacred spaces: slower motion is required to experience the power of the place. People in a hurry to get somewhere have little or no access to the sacred. Race through a meadow and you will miss it. Sacred spaces do not lose their power; people lose their access to the power of the space.

Once, many years ago in Bali, I made it a practice to walk the same pace as my Balinese hosts. To me, they moved at an impossibly slow pace. As an American, patterned to be forever in a hurry, I walk quickly “to get” somewhere else. There must always be a goal to achieve, a destination to reach. The Balinese were not patterned for transit but for presence. Over time, as I picked up their rhythm of movement I also picked up their pattern: it is possible to walk in presence. It is possible to be where you are with no imperative to get somewhere else – even while walking. It is possible to be in your life instead of racing through it.

A most amazing thing happens when “being here” becomes primary to “getting there”: everything becomes sacred space. Slow down enough and it is possible that you will recognize yourself as a sacred space.

After returning home from Bali I was able to sustain my capacity to move slowly for only a few months. It is easy to move slowly and be present when the culture you are in is patterned for presence. It is an entirely different challenge to move slowly and be present in a fast moving river. In the months after returning home I was either trampled or the cause of others (trying to navigate my slow movement) being trampled. We are not nearly as separate as we think we are. As I resumed my American pace I also dropped my capacity for presence and lost my lens on the sacred.

A recent surgery has necessitated slower moving. I have, in these past few weeks, found myself walking once again like a Balinese. I’ve stepped out of the fast moving river. Yesterday, standing on the back deck, I watched Dog-Dog delight in chasing squirrels. I listened to Kerri talk on the phone with a friend. I felt the sun on my face. There was no other place on earth I would rather be. There was nothing necessary to achieve.

Cut A New Path

ComfortNow

The latest in my Held In Grace series. This is Comfort Now

It seems to me that most of our days on this earth are spent moving through patterns, conscious or unconscious. These patterns are the rituals of our lives. Some of the rituals are easy to see. For instance, what is the sequence of actions you perform before going to bed each night? What about your ritual of rising each day? The care and feeding of Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog and Babycat are central to my rising and retreating rituals each day. We move through the same actions every morning and evening and I delight in the warmth of the ritual.

Some of the rituals are not so easy to see. Researchers tell us that most of the thoughts we think every day are the same thoughts we had yesterday. We mostly think in patterns (it makes sense once you recognize that language is constructed of category and pattern). We talk to ourselves, cutting paths through the forest of our minds and, once we’ve established a trail, we like to stay on it. Easy is often unconscious. There’s nothing wrong with staying on the easy trail if the path you’ve cut, your repetitious thought-ritual, is self-loving. The rub: ritual paths of self-loathing and self-limitation are also easy, well-worn paths and that makes them both unconscious and hard to leave.

Cutting a new path through the mind forest begins with recognizing that new paths are always available. They just aren’t easy to establish. They require new practices. They require surrender and the first bit of surrender necessary for cutting a new path is the ritual giving-over of needing-to-know-anything; new paths, by definition are unknown.

New paths are not comfortable precisely because they require attention, consciousness.

My teachers taught me that all stories worth telling are stories of transformation. The main character or characters will know something at the end of the story that they did not know at the beginning and the new knowledge will be hard-won. That’s what makes the story worth engaging. Hamlet is a much different character in Act 5 than he was in Act 1. His peace was difficult to come by. He had to learn to surrender. To cut a new path he had to make a practice of peace.

The same ideal applies to the stories we live off the stage.

 

Stand In It

photo

a detail from a recent painting

A surprise package came in the mail. It was a gift from David, my artist’s artist. He sends me things to feed my artist soul, to stir my pot or help me sort out my dilemmas. This gift is more timely than most; it is especially relevant for me now. It is a book of photographs and essays by Walter Kaufmann called Time Is An Artist. I’ve barely cracked the cover and already know it carries the wind that will fill my becalmed life-ship.

This is a quote from the first essay: We always live at the limits, but we are rarely aware of it.

I woke up this morning awash with gratitude for a man who stood in line behind me at an airport ticket counter over 30 years ago. I was returning from Europe. I had a hundred dollars and some lose change in my pocket. I was exhausted. I’d flown from London and landed in a blizzard. My connecting flight from D.C. to Denver was cancelled. Because I was traveling on a cheap open-ended student ticket, the cancelled flight meant I was stuck with no way home. I didn’t know what to do and was too tired to sort it out. I was desperate and lost in my desperation. That’s when the man tapped me on the shoulder. He was a guy in a rumpled business suit. That’s all I remember about him. He was also trying to get home. He’d just heard someone mention an airline offering a cheap flight to Denver. It was $89.00 ($100 with tax). I ran for the ticket counter and snagged one of the few remaining tickets.

That’s it. That’s what I remember about this man who tapped me on the shoulder. To him it was probably a little thing. To me it was enormous. I needed hope beyond desperation. I was investing in a story of limitless problems and was met with a moment of generosity.

It seems that I am in a life course, a graduate school for detachment. Last night P-Tom shared a quote that was important to him when he was doing his chaplaincy in a hospital: Don’t’ just do something, stand there (a reversal of the known quote). Stand there. Amidst the grief and the loss and the mess, sometimes it is essential to do nothing but offer presence. The man at the airport gave me his presence. Beyond his situation he was listening to my struggle.

Detach from your story and the gift will be gratitude. What rolls through our minds is nothing more or less than a story. Eckhart Tolle tells us the story is a force that pulls us out of the Now. Carlos Castaneda writes that Don Juan taught him 3 steps on the warrior’s path: Detach. Make a choice. Own the choice. One of the primary reasons people meditate is to quiet the mind. In the quiet it is possible to see the story as just that, a story. Detachment, in this sense, is not disengagement from life or cold aloofness from reality. It is the doorway to life. Stand in it and not the story of it.

Gratitude lives in the Now. Where else?

photo-2

another detail from another painting. kerri says this one looks like gratitude

The man at the airport was on my mind because I have learned in this life-course that gratitude is best served in thimbles: the taste of the pear, the sun on your face. The man tapping your shoulder, “Hey, I just heard….” I thanked him before running but the real gratitude came later. Gratitude came again this morning because I was telling stories of the good angels who’ve populated my path.

Real gratitude for this life lived perpetually on the edge is often lost when the expectation-bar is set too high. To be grateful for your life – your whole life – is… an abstraction. It requires a story that pulls you away from this bite. It is a bucket too big. Savoring is a slow affair, available in the smallest taste, right now.

 

 

Taste It Fully

ice circles on the lake

ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.